by Doug Carpenter


Zone Defense

When a writer — especially a guy like me, who even on his most pumped-up day, could hardly be considered anybody’s idea of a jock — uses a sports term like the one above for a title, he’s unquestionably playing a dangerous game. [Of course, knowing full well that I’m out of my league yet still doubling down with that “game” reference is about as “rookie” a mistake as you can make.]

But when it came to naming this month’s column, Zone Defense was the only appropriate choice. The idea for co-opting it came to me when I recently tuned in [...obviously by accident...] to a sportsradio talk show just as some pro athlete turned post-game analyst insightfully — if somewhat pretentiously — characterized my now-column titling phrase as “a metaphor [...dramatic pause...] for life.”

Luck, it turns out, was apparently with him that night, because had there been any retired league referees on the panel that, he almost certainly would’ve been called for double driveling. His drivel did, however, get me thinking about the colorful collection of metaphors for the life experiences that shaped my generation and which figure so prominently in my game plan for turning Everyboomer, the column, into Everyboomer, the book — my chapter titles.

I can understand how, compared with the content of a magazine column or even a full-length book, the few but hopefully intriguing words a writer chooses to park prominently in a piece’s lead-off position may not seem all that important. But as I considered what part of “the book” my publisher [...I do so love the sound of that...] might potentially take issue with, I realized that I’d better get working on a strong defense — make that a Zone Defense — for keeping mine just the way they are.

Because I love my titles. Every whimsical, abstract, esoteric one of them — even if they are [...as I can almost hear my hypothetical publisher trying to convince me...] too much all those things to adequately communicate what Everyboomer: The Antibiography of a Generation is about.] And over the 14 years now that I’ve been churning them out, there’ve been some doozies.

Like “You Do Realize That You’re Not Funny, Right?” And “Oh. You’re One of Them.” And “Show and Tell... and Tell... and Tell...” Then there was “Woof. Meow. Whatever.” and “A Dependable Source of Humiliation.” How about “The Same As Before, Only Different.” or “Remember Me? I Used to Be Google.” And of course, there was “I’m Actually Not As Dumb As I Look.” [I got more pushback on that one than I expected.]

I’m sure I’m not alone in my affection for titles, which clearly share common roots with names. And where would we be without those, right? We’d be standing around saying things like “Hey, could you hand me that... uhhh... Wow. The... ummm...?” That would get really old really fast. Which is why we spend such a large part of our time assigning them to stuff — something we’ve been doing for as long as there’s been stuff.

In fact, that’s why “Stuff” is the name of the first category of my “Zone Defense” — by which I shall [...sounding oddly like an old-timey magician announcing his next trick...] attempt to organize life [...along with my titles and the chapter topics that go with them...] into five basic categories. [TAH-DAH!]

I’m sorry, did I say five? Actually, it’s six. Because in many ways, life is a lot like assembling something you bought at IKEA. No matter how responsibly and carefully you approach it, there always seems to be at least one piece left over — which you don’t want to throw away for fear you’ll find out later that you needed it after all [...which you almost never do.] Just think of the extra category as the “junk drawer” of your soul.

Anyway, the categories — my defendable “Zones” — are really pretty basic. In addition to the one we’ve already designated as “Stuff,” you also have — in order — “Places,” “Ideas,” “Feelings,” “Memories” and, of course, your handy, everything-has-to-end-up-somewhere spot, which will be known, simply, as “Finally.”

Collectively, those six conceptual receptacles should hold all of the “What” in your life that needs holding. The “What” that you had. The “What” that you wanted. The “What” that you felt. The “What that you knew” [...its storage capacity, sadly, decreasing progressively as less space is required.] And “Finally,” the “What” that you could never quite decide what to do with but could never quite bring yourself to let go of. [That one will be extra big.]

And the beauty of this “Zone Defense” is that it also provides a great structure for organizing the stories I have the privilege of telling on behalf of my fellow Boomers. Stories which — like the unique people, events and experiences they’re about — combine to present a vivid portrait of the book title’s “Aspirational, Confrontational and Ultimately Transformational Generation,” which pursued its destiny by following its heart.

Interestingly, the acquisition of the lifetime’s worth of both physical and spiritual baggage we were destined to accumulate along the way actually began even before our lives did. And since credit belongs where credit is due, it’s only right to acknowledge that our careers as non-stop aggregators could never have gotten off to the great start they did without the invaluable assistance of our very own “personal shoppers,” our Moms and Dads.

Throwing themselves enthusiastically into their unpaid “temp” jobs as ad hoc purchasing agents, the expectant parents of every generation are out there tirelessly rounding up the first of their baby’s possessions, ranging from cribs, blankets, diapers and toys to an assortment of cute, little outfits — many of which baby will probably have already either hopelessly stained or completely outgrown even before the bill for their purchase has arrived. [What can I say? Adorable doesn’t come cheap.]

Once we’d grown up enough to trade “Goo-goo” in for “Gimme,” it only got worse. “Big kid” beds. TV commercials that triggered endless choruses of “Can I have that?” Birthday wish lists. Letters to Santa. Letters from colleges. Wedding registry checklists. Retirement party gift chip-ins. And durable medical supplies. [Not exactly the “stuff that dreams are made of” that Bogart chased in The Maltese Falcon, but we undoubtedly sleep better knowing we have them if we need them.]

Imagine how much room all that stuff took up, and all the “Places” we took it with us over the years. From our toy box — the first “place” just for storing our stuff. To our bedroom, which — overindulged Boomers that so many of us were — we had no trouble filling with even more stuff.

When the time came to move on and out, we transferred everything to our first apartment — which admittedly was small and a little boxy. But it was still our space for our stuff. And we were fine with that, at least until we had to get an even bigger box to hold our bigger, more expensive stuff — this time one with its own ZIP Code and a driveway.

Out of all that “stuff,” what are the things we really remember well? For me, it seems more and more to be little things. The kind of things you almost forget to remember, until you do and find yourself wondering why and how you could ever have let them get away. Sometimes it’s old friends that come to mind — who as you know count officially among “life’s greatest possessions.”

And even when the “possession” is just a thing and nothing more, the “Idea” alone that it’s gone can still evoke strong “Feelings.” Take the frayed, faded, olive green Army surplus fatigue jacket that I swear I just about lived in all throughout my college years and for a good while after that [...until it was time to grow up and at least try to look like an adult if not behave like one.]

As you may already suspect, I don’t have it any more [...not that there’s the slightest chance it would still fit me.] But what bothers me more than it being gone is that I have absolutely no idea what became of it. I don’t recall losing it, or selling it, or giving it away, or even having it stolen. At some point, I had it — and then... I didn’t.

But I still know how much it meant to me because even years after it disappeared from my closet and my life, those feelings are safely stored away under “Memories” in Zone #5. Of course, there is still one other place I haven’t looked for it yet. And unless somebody cleaned out my metaphysical junk drawer while I was “zoning,” maybe I can “Finally” put the mystery to rest.

© 2017 Doug Carpenter

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